What Are We Outraged About?

Deborah Gibbs recently wrote a compelling opinion piece for The Hill in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Gibbs reminds us that U.S. law defines trafficking as labor, or the exchange of sexual acts, for something of value – under the conditions of force, fraud, or coercion. “Trafficking” refers to the act of buying and selling, not the crossing of state or national boundaries. And if the trafficking involves minors under the age of 18, force, fraud and coercion are not necessary.

The victims of human trafficking come from a variety of backgrounds but common underlying factors of vulnerability include:

  • poverty and the inability to access basic needs;
  • history of abuse and neglect; and
  • absence of emotional and practical support.

Within the U.S.A., studies show that childhood maltreatment, sexual abuse, poverty and gender nonconformity are overwhelmingly common among identified trafficking victims.

Gibbs argues that if we are outraged about human trafficking, we should be outraged at the conditions that make people vulnerable to it. Gibbs calls on us to mobilize against the underlying causes of trafficking – poverty, discrimination, and the gaping holes in the U.S. domestic safety net. We should focus on causes of trafficking and not just symptoms or effects alone. She suggests that we honor survivors best when we advocate for resources that meet basic human needs for safety, well-being, self-sufficiency, and social-connectedness.

Take Action: How can your work or advocacy help t address one of the common underlying factors of human trafficking?

Deborah Gibbs is a senior social policy analyst in the Violence and Victimization Research Program at RTI International. She has more than 30 years of experience leading studies related to child welfare, violence against women, and children’s health, including several studies addressing domestic human trafficking.  Questions about this post? Email